A Year Of Firsts…

Here, I am reproducing my article that is published in NLGroup’s eWeekly last week.
Venkat Rao worked in National Life’s IT department for Keane for nearly a year. Earlier this year he wrote an article about how he learned to embrace winter in Vermont through winter sports. Here, he reflects on his time in Vermont and his amazing “firsts.” Venkat moved back to India and to his family last week. We miss him and wish him all the best! 

Photo: Eric McCarthy (left) and Venkat Rao (right) camped out in Quechee, Vermont the night before they bicycled the 100 mile Prouty Challenge. It was Venkat’s first camping experience and his first time eating s’mores
When the opportunity to work in the U.S. came to me, I accepted it excitedly. I was excited at the prospect of setting my foot on a foreign soil. It would be a first-time experience for me. Little did I know that it was just the start of many first experiences.
My new role with National Life Group kept me motivated and offered a good learning experience. My team, led by Ann Stillwell, was supportive and made me feel welcome right away. I had the opportunity to put faces to the voices I worked with when I was in Hyderabad. It is a privilege working with and learning from a group full of individuals who are the best at what they do. 

I landed in Vermont during one of the most colorful and divinely beautiful times. The beauty that the fall colors added to the landscape was unbelievable. I’ve never seen such beauty.

In October 2008, approximately one year prior to coming to Vermont, I’d started cycling because I wanted to keep off the 35 pounds that I’d lost during that year. I wanted to continue cycling in Vermont. So, even before landing, I searched online for bike shops in Montpelier. The day after landing in the U.S. I went to FreeRide and started volunteering there for a couple of evenings per week. In the process I learned to repair old bicycles and became eligible to build a bike from the old parts there. With the help of the amazing guys at the shop, I built my first bike
By the time I completed building my bike, winter set in. For the first time in my life, I saw snow – lots of it! The million colors of fall gave way to a single color. I saw only snow everywhere I looked. It was breathtakingly beautiful. But it was not perfect biking weather. I desperately wanted to put my bike to use and started biking in snow. In January in -2 degrees Celsius, I completed my first 100 km bike ride in the U.S. Another first.

There were too many days when the shoulders of road were filled with snow. I decided to explore other options. Thanks to eWeekly, I learned about the National Life’s wellness program and how it encourages employees to go out during lunch hours to work out. That is a huge blessing especially during winter when any other time of the day is too dark and too cold to do anything. I got in touch with Rob Levasseur and started snowshoeing on the trails around the Vermont campus. Snowshoeing kept me active and cheerful during the cold winter months.

I also started running during the winter and aspired to complete my first marathon in May. Although, I never ran a race before and only ran three miles at any time, I set out to train for the marathon challenge. Dave King, Eric McCarthy and many other runners were helpful with newbie runner training tips. Unfortunately, I had to bow out of the race because I fractured my heel during one of my training runs. 

Unable to walk properly for a few weeks, I decided to start biking again as the injury did not affect my biking. I signed up to be part of the Riders on the Zone team to raise money for cancer research and take on the 100 mile Prouty Challenge. With winter gone, I was able to ride more frequently in the company of enthusiastic people. Rob Levasseur, Kim Potter, Eric McCarthy, Jan Prive, Chris Kline and others took me on practice rides all around the state. The spring and summer were spent mostly biking throughout Vermont. On July 10, Riders on the Zone successfully took on the 100 mile Prouty challenge. It was my first hundred mile ride.

During the spring, Sheila Emerson introduced me to her husband Andy Emerson, who invited me to be part of his Thursday evening rides. He lent me one of his mountain bikes to ride. This gave me an opportunity to see the back roads and hilly wilderness of the state. Then I joined Mike Richardson, Steve, Rob and others on their single track mountain biking trails. It was completely different from road-biking. I had never been on a mountain bike before. 
Thanks to the eWeekly again, I learned about the Toastmasters club and joined. I had a great time polishing my public speaking skills. It is an amazingly encouraging group that made me feel less dorky.

I tried kayaking, thanks to Donna. I spent an evening at the races at Thunder Road, and tasted maple ice cream at Bragg Farm thanks to Kim Potter. Thanks to my riding partners, I rode up Smuggler’s Notch and Bethel Mountain/Rochester Hill on my fixed gear bike. All these were first-time experiences. I had a great time over the past eleven months and take back a lifetime of memories with me.

I feel fortunate that I was chosen for this assignment with National Life Group because it gave me an opportunity to not only learn and grow in my career, but also gave me a chance to visit the beautiful state of Vermont. If the beauty of Vermont leaves you breathless, Vermonters absolutely bowl you over with their amazing hospitality and kindness. Their spirit is so contagious that can not go without enjoying every moment…even in the freezing Vermont winters. 

I am especially thankful to all my friends who not only made my trip the most pleasurable but also have gone out of their way in letting me know how much they value the friendship by their kind send off gestures. I would never forget Vermont or all the great Vermonters I met. Thank you all and keep in touch.

One thought on “A Year Of Firsts…

  1. Hobby is different from Passion. Passion is something that is to be yield..
    I always get mesmerized when i look into your passion and dedication, commitment.
    I was totally suprised to know that you bought a cycleon your own there in abroad..
    Along with you, for a while, i was also roaming on the roads of vermont, I was also talking with vermonters.
    Good to read this and great to know your enjoyment..
    I even was so passionated towards some XYZ but always failed to yield it .. i think now its high time.. u motivated me back to my life 🙂

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